For the second time in my life, I managed to miss a flight I had arrived at the airport in good time to catch. There is a special skill to this. It is one thing to miss a flight due to bad traffic or late-running meetings; it takes talent to miss it when you get to the departure lounge with well over an hour to spare. There is, of course, a good reason for how it happened. The good reason is that I am an idiot.
Unlike the people who are able to arrive at an airport 20 minutes before their flight and waltz on to the plane with minutes to spare without raising their heartbeat, I am a constitutionally nervy traveller and always prefer to get to the terminal in plenty of time. Far better to while away 90 minutes reading a book or wondering whether to nip over to the caviar bar than to be stressing on the commute or in the security queue.
(Actually, I don’t entirely understand the airport caviar and oyster bar phenomenon. Admittedly, I don’t much like caviar but among the things I cannot imagine saying — “just time for some spoonfuls of Sevruga before they call my flight” — would be right up there with “of course I’ll take that package to Morocco for you”. But I digress.)
Fascinating as a good departure lounge can be, there really are only so many times you can buy a set of noise-reducing headphones. Even the best departure lounge should not distract you for more than 10 minutes, so there is no good reason to find yourself still sitting in one when the flight you are meant to be on takes off.
The first time it happened, on a flight to Scotland, I felt I had a scintilla of mitigation. I got there early, settled down in a BA lounge, opened a book, put on some music and waited to hear my flight called. By the time I noticed that flights were not being announced, my fellow passengers were airborne. It was the last flight and so my penance was a miserable night on the Edinburgh sleeper.
You might have thought this is the kind of mistake one does not make twice and, until Sunday, so did I (though there was that narrow squeak in Copenhagen when I forgot to reset my watch).
So there I was this weekend at Dublin airport (at least I have the sense only to screw up on short-haul flights) in plenty of time to catch the 5pm flight on which I was booked. The only thing was that, for some reason, I had got it into my head I was on the 6.10pm and so did not bother to check the boarding pass when I printed it out.
There were clues. For a start, there was no flight to London at 6.10pm, which, with hindsight, seems quite a big hint. But there was one at 6pm so I just . . . actually, what did I just? I just didn’t bother to engage my brain. Another clue was that I knew my flight was meant to arrive at 6.20pm, which would have been an impressively swift journey if it had indeed left at 6.10pm. All I can tell you is that none of these useful thoughts tripped across my brain as I listened to some music and blithely watched what must have been my flight taxi off towards the runway. Airport, say hello to airhead.
At 5.40pm I sauntered casually up to the boarding gate, only to be confronted with the unwelcome truth. Reader, I must tell you I put on my best bewildered face (not too difficult under the circumstances) and begged. Happily, this being Dublin and the lovely Aer Lingus rather than, say, London or Frankfurt or one of those jobsworthy places that can take a dim view of dim passengers, they checked for empty seats on the flight and, on finding one, simply let me board the 6pm.
So all was well although, inevitably, I did slip seamlessly into my other great airline neurosis — the one where the phrase “the tragic thing is he was meant to be on the earlier flight” pops into my head. You’ll be proud to know I toughed it out. Fortunately, both flights landed safely.
From this shambles I have two nuggets to pass on. First, if you are going to be this witless, I recommend Dublin as your venue of choice. And second, do take a moment to read your boarding pass. It’s packed with useful information.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018.